John Walker's Electronic House

by on Dec.20, 2004, under The Rest

Yesterday was spent mostly alternating between procrastination and writing a feature for Gamer. Which I got finished. But that’s not what I brought you here to talk about today.

Today we’re talking about the True Meaning of Christmas (TMOC).

I’m so utterly sick and tired of hearing this phrase. Because, pray tell, just what exactly is the True Meaning of Christmas?

I’ve asked around, and I’m not exactly getting a lot of answers. The most common response has been to describe the events of the birth of Jesus, which is clearly not an answer to the question. It’s the description of an event, not an exposition of meaning. So when pushed, I then tend to get told what I would prescribe to be the True Meaning of Easter. After pointing this out, the final conclusion tends toward, “Uh, you know, it’s about, well, I don’t know.”

Which might go some way towards explaining why this so called TMOC is so lamented.

This discussion walks a tightrope over a cavern of far too many hoary old cliches, in danger of suddenly plummeting into a, “Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December” or a, “The Christians stole a Pagan festival and have no rights to dictate how it should be observed.” Of course both are completely true, but don’t need repeating. And anyway, anyone can have their festival whenever they want, so Christians have every right to do whatever they want during the Winter Solstice. Yes, yes, yes, the reasons Christians originally picked that particular date wasn’t exactly in the spirit of the season, but that’s bygones, move on. And don’t say, “But they don’t have a right to impose it on anyone else.” That’s the whole point of this piece, you idiot.

However, if I am to hear this endless barrage of complaints about the “commercialisation of Christmas”, or “how the TMOC is lost” so very often, I at least want some sort of suggestion as to what exactly should be happening. Because so far as I can tell what these barking hoards demand is that the day be spent in silent meditation in a grey room, contemplating the extraordinary revelation of a baby born in a cave. But why? Because the Bible I read doesn’t seem to think the whole thing was that much of a big deal.

First Gospel, Mark, doesn’t even bother mentioning it. That’s reasonably noteworthy, you might think. In writing an account of the life of Christ, he didn’t think it merited even a cursory glance.

Matthew explains the merest outline, concentrating more of the events of a few years later with the visit of the Magi and the flee to Egypt.

Luke goes into a great deal more detail, taking pages explaining the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and their conceptions, but when it comes to the apparent True Meaning of Christmas, he skims through it in a couple of paragraphs. Interestingly, the nativity story we all know so well then tends to miss out Luke’s ending. Much about the cuddly shepherds, but then we inexplicably skip over Jesus’ circumcision and the awesome accompanying prophecies of Simeon. Instead things skip back to Matthew’s Magi tale, chronology be damned.

And finally John… oh, he doesn’t mention it either.

So what exactly is going on?

The conclusion is inevitable, and in danger of becoming a tiresome cliche itself: Christians have got their focus a little bit skewiff. Easter, guys. That’s the important one. The trouble is, enough people say this, but no one does anything about it. And why? Because of hypocrisy. If anyone really gave a damn about the lost TMOC, they’d organise themselves into making one massive deal of Easter Sunday. That they don’t reveals the truth here – everyone loves the big party of Christmas, but some people just want it for themselves. My friend Nick was recently at Trafalgar Square where an excellent atmosphere was in the air, happy people sharing in free mince pies, and a general air of positive spiritedness. And then one lunatic harridon Christian began screeching about how they were all heathens and that they should stop this wanton revelry and go to church. She sure showed them the love of Christ there then.

My goodness, Christians ought to take stock for a moment. Christmas is the most clear-cut celebratory festival in the Christian calendar. Easter’s tricky, the conflict of tragedy and joy so hard to know how to approach. But Christmas – Jesus is alive! Woo! What’s to mourn? And yet the sight of people having a good time because of a season kept bouyant by Christianity is enough to drive people to public breakdowns. They aren’t having the right sort of peace and goodwill! Stop this immediately, and go into the most miserable place possible – a presumably empty church. (I presume that it was not at a time when services were likely to be occurring, as otherwise this woman’s presence in public is inexplicable).

Solution: Christians need to start making their own big deal of Easter, as well as Christmas. Because, as a Christian, it is a big deal. It’s the point. It’s the moment in Christ’s life that none of the Gospels skimp on. For crying out loud, it’s just so bloody ridiculous, trying to fight for this TMOC that no one can quite identify and that two out of four Gospels don’t even care to mention. But importantly, as well as Christmas. Because Christmas is great! Decorations, presents, food, sharing, allowing ourselves to enjoy a naughty moment of excess, kids having an amazing time. It’s awesome. And it only continues because of the promotion it receives from Christianity. People should be proud of that.

So I was having this conversation in Waitrose with Sian, when the lady behind the checkout said, “Well, it’s about the renewal of hope, isn’t it?”

It would appear she’s right.

Which to my mind doesn’t preclude the sharing of mince pies in Trafalgar Square.

8 Comments for this entry

  • Richard Cobbett

    “And it only continues because of the promotion it receives from Christianity.”

    A squillion billion dollar industry probably doesn’t hurt though. As for holidays, I’d like to see us athiests take over Halloween. It’d be like the ying and yang of festival.

  • Tim R

    Thought you had already!
    Personally I would have gone for ‘celebrating and reflecting the self-giving gratuity of God (through Jesus)’ as the best sort of answer to the true meaning of Christmas. But then again, we at Christchurch are already miles ahead of you: our carol service frankly had more to do with Easter than with Christmas. “Jesus was born to die” we were told, at which various members of the choir started passing notes to each other saying “what about born to *live*?” I would have been one of them, apart from I didn’t have a pen with me… Because if sin=death and JC was without sin, then Jesus was the most alive, the most lively, person ever. Indeed, so alive that death didn’t do a very good job of keeping him dead. So though I take the point that the last week was pretty significant for Xianity, I sometimes think that our dogmatism on this “born to die” thing is dragging us down into the ranks of those who condemn people for having a mince pie at Christmas. Perhaps a more hopeful view of Easter would give Christians a more hopeful view of Christmas? What do you think?

  • Grill

    Yeah, good idea – we atheists could get to the real short-term hedonism at the heart of religion toot-sweet – though let’s start with a smaller festival like Simchat Torah or Vietnam Day to get some practice in at running them. I mean, everyone else has had, like, 2000 years of history (or a miniscule 400 for the C of E ;) )

  • Ross

    John, I like your point about Easter. I vote you have an Easter party and take the day off work. We’ll come to your party, wear hats of your choosing, and bring presents. We can make a big deal of eating a very specific type of food (I suggest sausages) and decorate a some kind of tree, or bush. I promise to replicate my Christmas behaviour in every way: get drunk, get grumpy, get outside for a crafty smoke.

  • NickM

    It was actually Covent Garden. And she was a most strange lady, because she didn’t look barking mad, but looked like she’d just suddenly had her inner Daily Mail explode. She was shouting very loudly at everyone, including cliches like “this is a Christian country, and if all of you with your heathen baubles don’t like it, then you can leave”.

  • Rossignol

    I don’t care if Jesus was dead alive, born or exploded. But you’re right about Easter since the last supper endorses dinner with friends. I’m all down for a cosmic celebration of dinner and all it stands for.

  • Richard

    TMOC braclets and mechandising please

  • AndyKrouwel

    The true meaning of Easter is that Ikea is shut.